Glennon Doyle on Imperfect Motherhood, Giving Yourself Grace and Raising Wild Children

Host Liz Tenety kicks off Season 4 of the podcast with an interview with Glennon Doyle, New York Times bestselling author, philanthropist, and mother of three. Glennon talks about her latest book, Untamed, her relationship with her wife, soccer icon Abby Wambach, and why we need to reframe how we talk about step-parenting. Glennon also reads an excerpt from her book.

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Liz Tenety: I think as women, we face a lot of cultural pressure to make sure everyone around us is comfortable. You know, for me, ever since I met my husband, I have just wanted the adventure of having a large family. And while I have no regrets about that choice, I now have four kids,I know that anywhere I go, I'm going to receive comments from people about, "Wow, do you know where they come from? Or is that a boy or a girl?"

And, you know, making comments about our baby or our life choices. You choose not to have kids and you hear the judgment of why, like, why is that the right choice for you? Or if you have an only child, you know, and that's right for you, you're going to get criticism.

We judge women too much often. What's right for you is not what's right for someone else…

(Music fades out and Gaena intro music begins)

Liz Tenety:

Hey, mama. Welcome to the motherly podcast, honest conversations about modern [00:01:00] motherhood. I am Liz Tenety. I'm the co-founder of motherly and a mom of four myself. I am so excited for season four of our podcast. And in this season's very first episode, we're talking to Glennon Doyle. Bestselling author and philanthropist about her newest book Untamed, which is a Reese's book club pick and a number one New York times bestseller.

Glennon talked to me about why she feels it's so important for mothers to live their truth. She also talked about the moment she fell in love with her wife soccer icon, Abby Wambach, and offered her insights into raising kids in a blended family. Following our conversation, Glennon also reads an excerpt from her new book. So stay with us.

Liz Tenety: Glennon Doyle, welcome to the motherly podcast.

Glennon Doyle: Oh sister. Thanks for having me. I'm thrilled.

Liz Tenety: So our theme [00:02:00] this season is motherhood your way, and you know, you have such a unique point of view. And especially with this new book out Untamed. So can you tell us, what do you think makes your approach to motherhood unique?

Glennon Doyle: First of all, I love that theme so much. That is so perfect. That should be the theme from the beginning, right? I mean, we have this, we have this baby one way or another, and then all of a sudden we get this idea that there's some, one way to do it. Right. And every culture has a different. One ideal or expectation.

Um, and what we realized over time is that, Oh, I was chosen for one reason or another for this child. And so all of me, this kid needs, right. All of me, all my perceived flaws and all my emotions and all my, for me, drama and, [00:03:00] um, you know, all of the mistakes and all of it because. We're just trying to raise human beings.

Right? And the definition of a human being is someone who just shows up and screws up and apologizes and starts over. So in order to do that, we have to show them all of ourselves. We have to allow ourselves to make mistakes in front of them and be what we would call imperfect in front of them and lose our temper.

And. Show up and apologize and try again and forgive ourselves relentlessly because that's the only graceful way to be human.

Liz Tenety: Well, so for those who don't know your story, so well, um, you know, finding out that you were first pregnant, that that moment for you was. Transformational. And in reading how you, how you talk about that, how you write about that, it feels like that positive pregnancy test was a real turning point in your life [00:04:00] and an evolution in who you are.

Glennon Doyle: Yeah. So at that moment, the wild part is that I had been -- I was 25 and I had been lost to addiction since I was 10 when I was 10 years old. I think I was just a really super sensitive kid who didn't have any of the tools or skills that she needed to deal with their sensitivity. And so I started numbing it with food really early.

I became bulimic when I was 10 and I never had, you know, I just never got it figured out. So it did what addictions do. It morphed into alcoholism and all the other things. And by the time I was 25, I was just so, so sick and so lost. And I had burned every single bridge in my life. I was. Drinking to blackout every single night, just, just so sick.

And I woke up one morning and it was on mother's day because the universe is not subtle. And I was sitting on my bathroom floor, just shaking from withdrawal and terror because I was holding a positive pregnancy [00:05:00] test. And all I can tell you in all the universe, there could not have been. A worst candidate for mother.

Right. And still something inside me was just this giant. Yes, yes. Yes.

Liz Tenety: What did it represent to you?

Glennon Doyle: My own life? I mean, I think, I, I think there was some part of me that knew that this could be my last chance to show up for life, you know?

Liz Tenety: And that was the catalyst for you.

Glennon Doyle: Yeah. So, the way I was using booze and food, it was just a way to numb out all the hard.

And as we know, you can't selectively numb. So when you numb out all the hard you'd know, not all the joy, tragically, it's a bad system. So, and that's when I realized, Oh, it's all or nothing. Like I'm going to have to just, freaking get sober. Oh my God, what could be worse? Right. And so that's the day I went to my first meeting.

I was just [00:06:00] so sick. I called my sister. She literally picked me up off the floor and drove me to my first recovery meeting. In recovery is where I found the first honest people I had ever met in my entire life.

Liz Tenety: So, in the years after you became a mother and you got sober, you started a blog and you became one of the original so-called mommy bloggers. I put it, I put it in air quotes. People can't see it. I put that in air quotes. I want to talk about that term, mommy bloggers. But first, why do you think that so many women found meaning through blogging and now on Instagram by sharing their stories.

Glennon Doyle: First of all, one funny thing that I just thought of when you said this is that when I first started writing, I didn't start a blog.

I just started emailing all of my friends. Yeah. So I always, it is a true thing that my writing career started because my friends didn't want to hear from me anymore. Um, and this, [00:07:00] this is one thing that I want to say to your readers, your listeners -- is that when I considered starting that blog, I had never read a mom blog before.

So, I Googled "mom blog" like "blog," and every article was about how this phenomenon was over, how, like these had jumped the shark, it was done. It was over. And I remember thinking, Oh, it's too late for me. Yeah. And I always think about that every time somebody says, but everybody's already done it, you know, but there's no space for me there, but it just always reminds me that no matter what, how many times something is done, it's not about the thing, it's about the, the voice doing that thing. Every single one of our voices is different. Right, right?

So, why did it resonant with people? Um, I think it probably has to do with the intention -- everything has to do with someone's [00:08:00] intention. And my intention was to find another place to be really honest and brave.

And I think a lot of other women were looking for a place to be honest about motherhood, because at the time -- it's hard to imagine right now because we are so deep into vulnerability world now. But back then 10 years ago, we were not there yet. It was shiny. Perfect. Everything was Pinterest. Everything was, we all have to act like there was no pain in mothering.

It was just all perfect and happy and wonderful all the time. Now we've devolved into -- it's like we used to shame each other for how perfect we needed to be. And now we've devolved into like, who can be a hotter mess.

Liz Tenety: Sometimes I think that... I saw Abby wore a sweatshirt that read "Christian mommy bloggers wife."

It's a joke, but you've been labeled as a Christian mommy [00:09:00] blogger or a mommy blogger. I'm not New York Times bestselling author or philanthropist. And I do think sometimes this term around mommy blogging gets thrown around. It gets thrown at us at Motherly -- It's a way to put women's stories to the side.

And, and on the one hand I wear it with pride because there is, of course, like enormous energy and passion and beauty behind these stories. And I think it's also a hypocritical way to not take women seriously in a way.

Glennon Doyle: Okay. Here we go. You ready? Thank you for saying that. It pisses me off. Okay. Because it doesn't matter.

My friend, Rachel Held Evans who died last year. She was a woman who showed up and spoke about, mostly about faith, barely anything about mothering. And she had, she was called a mommy blogger and she didn't have any children. Okay. If you have a [00:10:00] uterus and you speak about anything… If I were a man. Okay. If I were a man who had sold, had three books that were number one, New York times bestsellers who had raised $26 million for hurting people all over the world, would they call me a daddy blogger? Like there's no way, right? Yeah, of course.

And by the way, nobody, I never heard Christian mommy blogger, until I, um, announced my marriage to Abby and the reason why all the headlines said, "Abby Wambach marrying Christian, mommy blogger" -- the only reason they did that is because that was good clickbait, because the most shocking thing you could put, like Abby Wambach, well known woman lesbian, was with a Christian mommy blogger.

It would have been much less clickable to say Abby Wambach, [00:11:00] marrying New York times bestseller and philanthropist.

Liz Tenety: Well, let's talk about, um, let's talk about Abby. So in the middle of your last book tour for previous book, you realized you had already written the book about the redemption of your first marriage.

And in the middle of this book tour, there was a -- there was a plot twist. Can you help our listeners step into that moment with you? Where, you know, there is a story that you thought you literally had written about your life and then you realized there was a whole other path you're about to go on. What was it like to sit in that -- in the middle of that moment?

Glennon Doyle: Oh, Lord have mercy. Um, so interesting because, well, let me take a, okay. I was in, I think what I would describe now as a really broken marriage to a really good man. Okay. And that is a hard place for a woman to be because [00:12:00] we are supposed to be grateful for what we have, right. Because we are trained to think this is good enough and I should not want more.

And we are also trained to believe I should forgive and I should not be angry and I should all the things. So Craig and I worked our asses off to -- he did every single thing that you can ask a person to do. After infidelity, he really did. And, um, we just kind of kept them willing our way to like getting to this place that we knew we would get to one day where we would be fully healed and fully, really live inside this magical forgiveness that was supposed to come to us from up on high.

Right. But that, well, I willed my way into that. I was angry all the time. I was just like this low level river of rage and I had this constant longing inside of me. It was just like this voice that kept saying, wasn't it supposed to should be more beautiful than this, but I shut that down because I'm supposed to be grateful.

So, I am at the first ever event [00:13:00] to launch Love Warrior, which was being told, which was already Oprah's book club pick, right. There were teams of people whose careers were based upon the success or failure of this book. And it was being touted as an Epic marriage redemption story. So that's a lot of fricking pressure.

Okay. Besides the fact that these books, what people have to remember is that these books are finished by the author a year and a half before they go out.

Liz Tenety: There's a lot of life that happens after that.

Glennon Doyle: A lot. So I write the last word of that book and then a year and a half later, I'm on the road to launch it.

And I'm at this librarians convention actually is what it was. Yes. And I'm at this table with a bunch of writers and I turned to the doorway and this woman is standing in the doorway and she is. 12 feet tall. And she has this platinum blonde hair and it's like long [00:14:00] on top and shaved on the sides, but she looks like nothing I've ever seen before, like a woman and a man and like neither and both.

And she just has this like ice blue eyes and this really warm smile. And I just lost my damn mind. Like I, every bone in my body, every fiber of my being just said "There… She…. Is." Which was without a doubt, the strangest moment of my life, because I've never even kissed a girl. Like I have zero context for this experience that is happening right now, okay? I didn't even know what this means.

So, strangely enough, she has a similar, very odd experience in that moment. We talk a little bit. You know, just amongst all the other writers that that night we'd have to speak in front of each other to a crowd of a thousand librarians. I throw away my entire [00:15:00] speech and just say things that I think will make her think I'm cool.

Okay. She does the same thing. I still talk to people who are in that audience and we're like, what is happening? Why are they being so weird? And over the next year, several months, which is a lot of what Untamed is about. We just fall in love through letters, our emails, a little bit over time. We never see each other.

She lives in Portland. I live in Florida. After that night, we go back to our homes. We do not see each other. Again, this is -- we fall in love, completely through letters. And when I finally admit to myself, yes, I am in love with this person, I tell Craig. But before that was, I would say maybe this was the most important, like decision making time of my entire life.

Because the only way I can explain it is to me, it didn't feel like a decision. Okay. Do I, is it, do I go back? Do I go to stay in my marriage or do I go to [00:16:00] Abby? For me, it was like, do I abandon myself again? And I was so heartbroken because even though I knew that I thought, it was like, oh, I'm going to let her go, anyway. I am going to abandon myself again.

And that is because we have been tamed to believe that a good mother does not allow any sort of pain into her children's lives. What a burden for the children of martyr mothers to bear, right? To be the reason that their mothers stopped existing to know that if one day they become mothers, they will also have to bury themselves.

Because if we hold up martyrdom as the epitome of motherhood, that is what our children will spend their lives trying to reach.

Liz Tenety: Well, you say in the book, you know, as your relationship with Abby was unfolding, that. It dawned on you that the happier that you became your children also became.

Glennon Doyle: that's the way it always is, right?

When you grant yourself -- and by the way, by wild, all I mean [00:17:00] is being yourself authentically you. I have one child, who's wild is... is quiet and still. That is her wild. And when people try to tame her out of that, by shaming her to be louder than she is, I can see it. That it feels like she's being tamed.

And I have another child who is just about six years from a felony, for sure. She's just so out there. Right. And that is her wild, but wild just means who you are before the world told you who to be.

Liz Tenety: I want to talk a bit more about Abby and what you've learned from her as a mother. I was thinking about step motherhood and thinking about that, realizing that we often mentally put the word evil instead of in front of stepmother.

That is the way that our culture talks about it. That's not the reality, but why is, why is evil a concept that comes up with step motherhood? And then what have you [00:18:00] seen in. Abby's version of step motherhood and motherhood?

Glennon Doyle: Yeah. Well, I think the evil stepmother. It comes from fairytales, right?

And it's just another different way to condition or tame people. But I also think that blending families can be very, very difficult and, and, and I think that they can be difficult because there's so much lovem you know?

Craig had really serious girlfriend for a long time and she was treaking wonderful. Which was so annoying. At first, it's really hard.

Like if you picture an evil stepmother, she was like the opposite. And she knew how to do all the things I didn't know how to do -- just things like, you know, cook. I remember calling Craig one time and I was just so mad because I don't know, they had made some decision that I didn't like or something.

So I was just being obnoxious and I said, well, they're just getting too close to her. And what if she -- I'm just afraid [00:19:00] she's going to leave and break their hearts. And that isn't at all what I was afraid of. I was afraid she was going to stay and keep their hearts. Right? And so I really think that one of the reasons we struggle so much with these relationships is because they are so hard because they actually are tricky in terms of being afraid that somebody else is going to take your place or it's going to be better. We're already so insecure about our parenting. And then suddenly the one thing we get to tell ourselves is, "Oh, at least I'm the only mom they ever have." They have nothing to compare me to and then they do.

So I will say that -- and then the other perspective that I have is watching Abby become a step parent to our children. And here's what I think, based on my own experience. There has to be, there has to be a reframing of step-parenting. [00:20:00] When, when step-parenting is done with an open heart, it is the single most beautiful, unique, holy love that I have ever seen.

All right. I had these babies. Abby's love for these children isn't -- it's not biological, it's not instinctual. It is an act of high selfless love, right? They don't turn to her automatically. They turn to me, she doesn't get all of those benefits that we get constantly. And yet she shows up for them day after day, hour after hour, just forging the selfless, um, non-rewarded at first. I don't know if I could do it. I mean, I don't know. I don't know if I could do it, what I watched her do every day and I have [00:21:00] just so much respect for it and I'm watching it. It takes forever. Like the patience, the years that the step-parents have to put in to finally get that one, "Oh yeah, this is my mom."

There needs to be a narrative that presents step-parenting for what it is, which is one of the most, holy, higher loves.

Liz Tenety: A lot of people are starting to think about, please God, a world after COVID-19. And if we thought parenting was hard before, I mean, try parenting in a pandemic in an economic crisis, try to work and watch kids, or look for a job and not be able to leave your house.

I mean, this is, I hope, a once in a lifetime burden, but there's also, the beginnings of a conversation about what our new normal could look like, because [00:22:00] coronavirus and the quarantine has shown us how, how unfair the world always has been. It's exacerbated some of these inequalities and, you know, they're starting to be the beginning of a conversation of how do we take this terrible thing that has happened and craft a better normal going forward?

So I'm wondering when you reflect on the worlds that we could build through this experience, how could you imagine the world changing through this for the better?

Glennon Doyle: Yeah, I mean, I think this exactly is probably why untamed is hitting people right now. Um, because it is about facing pain. In our own lives and in the world head-on and returning to ourselves as women and [00:23:00] showing up in our relationships and families and worlds in a different new way, right?

In a way, when we hide none of our anger, where we stop numbing our heartbreak and instead use what breaks our heart to inform exactly what it is that we do next. Right where we, um, just drop the whole, um, scarcity idea that was planted in and among us and band together instead, and not turn on each other, but turn on unfair systems together.

Right? I mean, I truly believe that the women, you know, it's like I spent so much listening to the deep desires of women and women are trained to believe that their desires are bad. And that they can't go for what they want. But I listen everyday to what women want. I know what women want. Women tell me they want a moment to take a deep breath. They want a rest. [00:24:00] They want good food. They want good sex. They want good relationships. They want to be seen and valued and loved. And they want to really see and love someone else. They want enough food and safety for their children and they want enough Food and safety for all children. They want wars to end. They want kids to be fed. They want to turn on their news -- the news -- and see less pain and more love. What women want is beautiful. So, what I hope is that as we come out of this time, that we will no longer believe the gaslighting of women that is completely universal. Where every time we say, I don't think this is right, I think it was supposed to be more beautiful than this, the world tells us we're crazy. Right? This is all there is. And we should just be grateful that we will completely reject and bypass that gaslighting. And we will understand that, no, no, no, this anger inside of me does not mean that there's something wrong with me. It just means that there's something wrong out in the world that I could be part of changing.

Liz Tenety: Let's do it! I'm in.

Glennon Doyle: Let's do it sister!

Liz Tenety: Well, Glennon Doyle, thank you so much for spending time with us and joining us on the motherly podcast.

Glennon Doyle: It's such a treat. Thank you so much. And thank you for all the work you do to show up for moms. We need it so much. So, thank you.


Glennon Doyle's reading from her book:

[00:26:00] Women have sent me so many of their two dimensional dreams for me. Beautiful family world. I Marvel at how wildly different each of their stories is. It's proof that our lives were never meant to be cookie cutter, culturally constructed, carbon copies of some ideal. There is no on way to live love. Raised children, arrange a family, run a school, a [00:27:00] community.

A nation, the norms were created by somebody and each of us is something, buddy. We can make our own normal, throw out all the rules and write our own. We can build our lives from the end inside out. We can stop asking what the world wants from us. And instead ask ourselves what we want for our world. We can stop looking at what's in front of us long enough to discover what's inside us.

We can remember an unleashed, the life changing relationship, changing world, changing power of our own imagination. It might take us a lifetime. Luckily, a lifetime is exactly how long we have.Liz Tenety: Well, that's it for our show this week. Thank you so much Glennon. And thank you for listening. We would love it. If you spread the word about our podcast, we have an incredible. Season coming up with amazing guests. I know you're going to love them. So if you can please leave a review on Apple podcasts. It takes about 30 seconds.

I really appreciate it. It really helps other mamas discover our show. And I love reading your feedback. I read every single one. The motherly podcast is produced by Jennifer Bassett with support from Jordan Gass-Poore. Our music is from the blue dot sessions. I'm your host, Liz Kennedy. Thank you so much for listening.

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Hosted by Liz Tenety

Liz is an award-winning journalist and editor, and the co-founder of Motherly. A former Washington Post editor, she thrives on all things digital community + social media strategy. She's passionate about helping to provide women with more support, (and way less judgment), on the journey through motherhood. This podcast is an extension of her commitment to hosting honest conversations about modern motherhood. Liz resides outside NYC with her husband, two sons, one daughter and one amazing au pair.

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